Today, the House of Representatives approved the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act Conference Report, which sets policy and funding levels for the Department of Defense for the coming year. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and served as an NDAA Conferee appointed by Speaker John Boehner to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA. Tsongas wrote provisions on multiple issues that were included in the final passed bill.
Congresswoman Tsongas has worked over the past year to author and successfully include provisions that strengthen the investigative and oversight tools for preventing sexual assault in the military; increase funding for lightweight and gender-specific body armor research and development; and provide a critical first step to help ensure the retention of the military's mission at Hanscom Air Force Base and Lincoln Labs.
Some of the key highlights in the 2013 NDAA authored or co-authored by Congresswoman Niki Tsongas include:
- Language requiring the Air Force Materiel Command reorganization to be conducted in compliance with the Base Closure and Realignment Commission statute, which would help ensure the retention of the military's mission at Hanscom Air Force Base;
- Tripling of authorized funding levels for body armor research and development;
- Directing the Department of Defense, for the first time ever, to develop body armor for women and to evaluate any available commercial options;
- Language that will help servicemembers correct their military records if they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault, protecting servicemembers against retaliatory gestures and intimidation techniques that have for years had a chilling effect on the willingness of victims of sexual assault in the military to come forward;
- Requiring the United States Government Accountability Office to assess how sexual assault metrics are being used in the new Department of Defense sexual assault database, which will help decide whether the Department of Defense is using the best possible metrics to identify trends in sexual assault incident reporting;
- The creation of an independent review panel comprised of civilian and military members that will closely examine the way that the DoD investigates, prosecutes, and adjudicates sexual assault and related offenses;
- An amendment indicating Congressional support for a $450 million construction project at Lincoln Labs at Hanscom, which will be privately financed at no expense to the taxpayer;
- Report language encouraging the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to perform an assessment of the mental health of Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) operators, a process currently undertaken only by the Air Force.
Congresswoman Tsongas championed other key highlights of the 2013 NDAA, utilizing her position on the House Armed Services Committee and the Conference Committee to push for their inclusion in the final Conference Report, including:
- The Shaheen Amendment, which ensures that servicewomen have the same access to health care, including abortions in the case of rape and incest, as their civilian counterparts;
- The creation of Special victims units for the investigation, prosecution and victim support in connection with child abuse, serious domestic violence or sexual assault offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, adding a level of expertise that is a step toward more successful investigations and prosecutions;
- Language that will allow better oversight and the tracking of prior steps taken by the Department of Defense to ensure that sexual assault provisions from prior Defense Authorizations are enforced as strongly as possible;
- Protection for Women and Children in Afghanistan, requiring that the Departments of Defense and State explain how they can protect women and children in Afghanistan as U.S. forces draw down;
- Providing a1.7 percent basic pay raise for military service members;
- Fully endorsing President Obama's plan in Afghanistan to transition lead responsibility for security to the Afghans by mid-2013
For a comprehensive look at the FY2013 NDAA, click here
Statement from Congresswoman Niki Tsongas on the passage of the 2013 NDAA:
"Our military personnel make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf and it is our duty to speak and act on their behalf to ensure they have the resources necessary to safely and effectively carry out their mission.
"This year's NDAA, in addition to providing a 1.7 percent pay raise to servicemembers, touches upon a multitude of areas that will better equip and support the men and women who serve.
"As the only Massachusetts member serving on the House Armed Services Committee, and as a Conferee to this year's NDAA Conference Committee as appointed by Speaker Boehner, I strongly advocated for provisions that I authored or championed, that will better protect our servicemen and women, as well as support the Massachusetts companies, workers and facilities leading the way in military innovation.
"Our Massachusetts military installations provide essential security to our Armed Services by developing and procuring cutting edge communications, radar and other electronic capabilities for our servicemen and women. They are also substantial economic drivers in our region. A recent study by the UMass Donahue Institute found that in Fiscal Year 2011, these installations contribute nearly $14.2 billion to the Commonwealth's economy and over 46,000 Massachusetts jobs. Hanscom Air Force Base in particular, has metcritical communications, cyber technology, and other security needs for our military for decades.
"Over the past year, I have been working to highlight the strategic importance of Hanscom Air Force Base, including inviting Rep. Adam Smith, the highest ranking Democratic Member of the House Armed Services Committee, to visit Hanscom and Lincoln Labs this past September to get a firsthand view of the remarkable work being done here in Massachusetts.
"The 2013 NDAA directs the Secretary of the Air Force to retain the core functions of the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base unless they are modified through the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) statute. This language simply states that the Air Force cannot diminish Hanscom's capabilities or its important work without Congressional approval, and is the first step in protecting Hanscom's mission going forward. It also requires the Air Force to submit a report to Congress outlining any efficiencies which have been generated by the Air Force Materiel Command reorganization and detailing how it is in compliance with the BRAC statute.
"The NDAA also supports the modernization of Lincoln Labs, which will allow it to remain one of the nation's largest and finest defense research and development centers andhelp ensure the retention of the military's mission at Hanscom.
"Massachusetts continues investing in and marshaling some of the best cyber minds and resources in the world, which provides unmatched capabilities and benefits to the Air Force and other stakeholders. I remain very confident in Hanscom's capabilities, and believe the base is uniquely positioned to take advantage of all of our local assets, such as the numerous defense firms, research centers and universities nearby.
"I have also been strongly advocating for improved body armor for our troops in the field. This effort helped lead to the tripling of the financial commitment to body armor research and development, fully supported by President Obama. This substantial increase reflects the concern of myself and many other members of Congress that we need to be doing more to develop the best possible body armor systems--even as we begin to draw down from Afghanistan--and represents a significant victory in this effort.
"In addition to this expanded financial commitment for body armor development, language I authored in this year's NDAA recognizes the role that women are increasingly playing on the front lines of our battlefields by directing the DoD to develop body armor specifically for female soldiers.
"Fourteen percent of the Army is now female, a figure that is expected to rise to 25% by 2025, and women will see their combat roles expanded further in the years ahead pursuant to the Defense Department's welcome review of women in combat. Our female soldiers should be provided the same level of protection as their male counterparts and this language for the first time directs the development of gender-specific body armor to ensure that this life saving technology properly fits and protects all of our servicemembers.
"When it comes to confronting sexual assault in the military, the 2013 bill builds upon the strides taken in previous years' NDAA provisions. However, instituting improved policies is just one step. In order to fully combat and prevent these crimes, we must work to improve the culture of the armed services. The provisions in this year's NDAA will help hasten that much-needed cultural change.
"New oversight tools will hold services accountable and help ensure the full implementation of NDAA provisions from this and past years.
"For example, the NDAA creates an independent review panel that I strongly supported. This panel includes civilian members who will force the Department of Defense to closely examine the way that it investigates, prosecutes, and adjudicates sexual assault and related offense. The bill also contains language I authored which requires the United States Government Accountability Office to assess how sexual assault metrics are being used in the new Department of Defense sexual assault databaseto identify trends in sexual assault incident reporting as well as language I supported that will allow Congress and those responsible for overseeing the armed forces to better track prior steps taken by the Department of Defense to prevent sexual assault.
"Newly created policies, resources and services in this year's NDAA will add layers of protection and support for those who have experienced sexual assault.
"The inclusion of the Shaheen Amendment will rightfully ensure servicewomen the same access to health care as their civilian counterparts. Also included is a provision that requires the creation of special victims units that will bring a level of expertise with psychological trauma to victim interviews and ultimately lead to more successful investigations and prosecutions.
"Also included in this year's final NDAA is language that I worked on with Congresswoman Louise Slaughter that will help servicemembers correct their military records if they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault. Retaliatory gestures and intimidation techniques have for years had a chilling effect on the willingness of victims of sexual assault in the military to come forward, and this provision takes a small step towards combating these incredibly harmful actions.
"As with all bills of this size, there were pieces that I wasn't happy with, such as the final spending amount which was higher than what the President originally proposed. That being said, I could not in good conscience vote against the passage of this bill, which will provide vital resources, supplies and support for the men and women of our armed services."